This character adds a little wisdom to our lives
Xiang Yu (项羽), a warlord who rebelled against the failing Qin dynasty (221 – 206 BCE), once proposed a duel with his rival Liu Bang (刘邦) to decide who would be the future ruler of China. But Liu refused: “I’d rather match wits than strength (吾宁斗智，不能斗力 Wú níng dòuzhì, bùnéng dòulì),” he stated, according to the Records of the Grand Historian (《史记》).
In 202 BCE, Xiang, who was praised as having “unrivaled strength and courage in history” by later generations, lost the Battle of Gaixia due to Liu’s superior strategies. Xiang committed suicide, while Liu went on to found the Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE), seemingly confirming the triumph of brains over bravery.
Appearing over 3,000 years ago on oracle bones, the earliest form of 智 (zhì, intelligence, wisdom) consisted of the character 知 (zhī, knowledge) on the left side, and a radical of unknown meaning that resembles a standing person on the right. In bronze script, the radical 白 (bái, white) was added below the original character. It was simplified into its current form in the Han dynasty.
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On the Character: 智 is a story from our issue, “You and AI.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.